Reflective Essays are a unique form of composition within academic writing, requiring a more subjective and evaluative, hence reflective, mode of composition than the objective and analytical style of standard scholarly prose. At base, a reflective essay describes an event or an experience in the author's life, detailing their impressions, thoughts and opinions on same, and using these reflections to critically evaluate the topic being discussed. In particular, reflective essays are oriented toward exposition of how the event in question changed the writer; what the writer learned from the experience and how they developed intellectually and emotionally as a result. A reflective essay, then, requires a far more personal approach than is usual in essay writing, whereby the author looks inward, examining the self, one's own experiences and impressions. This contrasts distinctly with the outward looking, impersonal paradigm of conventional essay writing, in which, as a rule, such personal reflection is not common.
Reflective writing represents a valuable opportunity to excavate one's own psyche, to explore an issue which is uniquely meaningful to the writer; in sum, to analyse oneself. In such analyses, one needs to bring theory and practice together in an insightful manner, that places a scholarly lens of inquiry over individual subjective experiences. This is more than just a descriptive account, it is a critical treatment. One is essentially seeking to establish the relevance of academic theory to one's own experiences, examining the ways in which critical concepts may illuminate events in question. Due to the very specific purpose of Reflective Essays, they tend by necessity to follow fairly linear compositional traits which capture something of a narrative function: to tell the story of a specific experience and what was learned from it. It is convention to begin with an overview of the event and its significance, progressing to a more precise account of what occurred, leading into a critical discussion of what was learned and how from the experience. As a conclusion the author will explain the implications of the learning experience, how it will shape the writer's future behaviour.
Reflective Essays are becoming more and more common in academia, as the importance of practical experience is increasingly valued for its educational benefits. The art of the Reflective Essay is in allowing general rules and concepts to be extracted from specific situations, in deconstructing the components of individual experience in order to shed light on the collective lot. It is this kind reflective analytical logic that forms the foundation of much scholarly work. In one sense, reflective writing represents the very essence of critical thinking, in being able understand an isolated event in its wider context and consequently to understand that event as a causal phenomenon, an effect of a cause and, indeed, the cause of further effects. When authoring reflective prose, then, one is seeking to locate and explain the determinant relations between ideas and actions, theory and practice, and to extrapolate from these findings a critical understanding of one's own experiences.
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